Surviving holiday weight gain without driving yourself crazy

Thanksgiving has come and gone with the holidays in full effect now. I’ll admit, I’m one of those people that really love this time of year. There are lots of special things we get to enjoy right now- Christmas music, holiday decorations and lights, winter clothes, and of course seasonal food. I know some of you may be feeling a bit anxious about holiday weight gain though. Especially if you’ve experienced it in previous years past. To give you a better handle on it, I’ve put together some simple tips that I believe will help you out. This year, I want you to think about making it easier for yourself without making it the center of your life. The holidays are about family, friends, gratitude, and should be an exciting time. Frankly, it’s not a great time to go on a new diet. I’m a huge fan of mindlessly losing or maintaining your weight, especially during a time of year when many are mindlessly (and effortlessly!) gaining weight.

  1. How much weight do you normally gain this time of year? Do you actually gain any? According to a study published in 2000 on 195 people in the U.S., the average weight a person actually gains between Thanksgiving and New Years is only about a pound. Although many of us perceive it to be more like five to ten or more. The real problem, however, is that it doesn’t typically come off, whatever you gain. So it just ends up being an additional pound each year compounding on top of the previous year. Now if you know you put on more, say eight to ten pounds….is it realistic to say that this year you are going to actually lose five pounds? What would be different? I’m going to challenge you to think differently and set an unconventional goal that you will gain only a fraction of what you normally gain. For example, if your typical M.O. is to put on ten pounds over the holidays, how about make it a goal this go around to only put on four pounds? If you fall in the average one or two pound weight gainers population, then maybe you can focus on maintaining your weight. Does that make sense? I hope so.
  2. When you are at a holiday party, stand at least slightly more than arms length from the buffet or food table. Ever notice where people like to socialize? People want to stand around the food because it’s where the action is. The problem is you’re going to mindlessly eat for possibly hours if you do that, consuming hundreds of extra calories that you didn’t mean to. This seems like a very simple concept because it is.
  3. Choose wisely on the first trip to the buffet. In a Cornell study, it was found that we tend to serve ourselves the most on that first plate. So, if you know that, choose the lowest calorie foods to put on your plate first. You can always go for a second round to get the richer foods such as dips, cheesy casseroles, and desserts. This way, you are filling up on salads, fruit and veggie platters, and lean proteins while saving yourself up to thousands of calories simply by switching up the order in which you served yourself. Think of it in terms of volume – a creamy pasta dish will have hundreds more calories per cup than a cup of salad with low fat vinaigrette dressing.
  4. Take smaller sips and bites. On a normal everyday basis you may eat like you’re trying to win a race. But at holiday parties, it’s about socializing and enjoying those moments spent with loved ones. I get it, sometimes it’s more stressful than enjoyable during holidays with family. But the foods we eat are also meant to be savored and enjoyed this time of year. They’re special around the holidays, are they not? You will feel more satisfied on less if you choose to eat and drink slower.
  5. Manage your emotions. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that this time of year can bring up unwelcome emotions such as depression, anxiety, and even anger. If you have a tendency to stress eat this is particularly troublesome for you to manage your weight effectively. I have many past posts addressing this topic that work just as well during the holiday season as they do throughout the year. Remember that if hunger is not the problem, food is not going to solve it. This time of year especially is when we have to be intentional about separating food and our emotions:

Make food about food and emotion about emotion.

Here’s a few quick questions for you though: Why are you sad? Is there someone you can talk to? Are you just stressed because you’ve over-scheduled yourself? Has Christmas shopping overstretched your budget? What things can you address and actually do something about? And what things do you need to let go of?  Most importantly, what are your priorities? I learned a few years ago that when I am clear on my key priorities, it becomes easier to filter my decisions through them. For example, I may be asked to participate in three different “secret santa” gift exchanges, but if one of my key priorities is to manage my budget so that I am able to pay off past debts, the decision to decline the invitations becomes very clear. If I’m asked to volunteer to help with a holiday event but it’s during a time I’ve set aside to spend quality time with my children and they are a key priority for me, the decision to say no is not as difficult and the potential stress of broken promises to anyone is avoided.

Even if you choose just to use one of these, I think it will really change your outcome when you get to January 1. Imagine how it will feel making that resolution and not feeling like you are starting ten steps behind!

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.


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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

9 thoughts on “Surviving holiday weight gain without driving yourself crazy

  1. This post is EVERYTHING! Thank you so much for all of your knowledge and wonderful tips. They will most definitely be put in to good use! Managing your emotions is particularly useful for me as I am almost four months pregnant with my first child. I’m going to need to control those hormones! This is great 🙂

  2. Thank you for writing this. I think people definitely need this information at this time of year! I am especially glad that you put that part about emotions at the end. So key.

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